President Obama has signed a $858-billion tax-cut measure into law, saying that it will help the middle class and boost the economy.

Enactment of the massive bill on Dec. 17 came less than 24 hours after it had cleared Congress.

Shortly before signing the bill in a White House ceremony, Obama said that it is a measure that will "protect the middle class, that will grow our economy and will create jobs for the American people."

Final congressional approval came at around midnight on Dec. 16, when the House passed the legislation, the Middle Class Tax Relief Act of 2010. The tally was 277-148, as 139 Democrats and 138 Republicans voted for the bill.

The Senate had approved the bill  one day earlier on a strong, bipartisan 81-19 vote.

Lawmakers sought to pass the bill before Dec. 31, when current tax rates were due to rise and other provisions covered by the measure were slated to expire.

The main positives for construction in the package are two-year extensions for current individual tax rates, a one-year cut in workers' Social Security payroll taxes  and more favorable tax treatment for estates.

Those provisions will help small firms organized as partnerships and S Corporations, which are taxed at individual rates, and also assist family-owned businesses.

Also on the plus side are provisions allowing companies to "expense" costs of capital purchases, such as heavy equipment, and a one-year extension for a stimulus act program that gives grants to companies that develop renewable-energy projects.

Those grants are awarded in lieu of tax credits to companies whose income is too low for them to benefit from a credit.
It's no surprise that the Solar Energy Industries Association is happy that provision made it into the package.

On the down side, the newly signed bill doesn't include an extension for the Build America Bonds (BAB) program, which has helped states and localities fund infrastructure projects around the country. The BAB program now will expire on Dec. 31.

Since the first BABs were issued in April 2009, their total volume has climbed to $165.4 billion as of Nov. 30, according to the Treasury Dept., whose periodic updates have cited data from Bloomberg.